Tech billionaires donate $20m to fund set up to protect society from AI

Tech billionaires donate $20m to fund set up to protect society from AI

The founders of LinkedIn and eBay are donating a combined $20m (£16.4m) to fund academic research aimed at ensuring the safety of artificial intelligences.

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LinkedIn’s founder Reid Hoffman and the Omidyar network, the philanthropic investment firm set up by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, are donating $10m each to the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund, which will distribute money to researchers working on the tough ethical problems raised by AI.

“There’s an urgency to ensure that AI benefits society and minimises harm,” said Hoffman. “AI decision-making can influence many aspects of our world – education, transportation, healthcare, criminal justice and the economy – yet data and code behind those decisions can be largely invisible.”

The specific research areas the fund will focus on aren’t fixed, but the possibilities include ethical design – “how do we build and design technologies that consider ethical frameworks and moral values as central features of technological innovation?” – and accountability in AI – “what kinds of controls do we need to minimise AI’s potential harm to society and maximise its benefits?”

The Knight Foundation is also contributing $5m to the fund, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Raptor Group founder Jim Pallotta are giving $1m each. The founding academic institutions for the initiative will be the MIT Media Lab and Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.

Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation, said: “artificial intelligence agents will impact our lives in every society on Earth. Technology and commerce will see to that. Since even algorithms have parents and those parents have values that they instil in their algorithmic progeny, we want to influence the outcome by ensuring ethical behaviour, and governance that includes the interests of the diverse communities that will be affected.”

The fund is one of many new bodies aimed at shaping the future of AI in a positive – or, at least, thoughtful – direction. The Partnership on AI, a collaborative effort involving Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft, was launched in September 2016 to “establish AI best practices” but has yet to do anything publicly other than announce its own creation; the Elon Musk-backed OpenAI project, announced in December 2015, was more directly aimed at “advancing digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole”. It has published research to that effect fairly consistently in the year since it was established.

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